There tends to be obvious candidates for offensive and defensive rookie of the year each season. Last year's offensive winner was Percy Harvin and it was no real surprise. Drafted in the first round, Harvin was expected to be involved quickly for a contender in the NFC. The former Florida playmaker scored eight total touchdowns including a 101 yard return score and registered 790 receiving yards.
The top two defensive candidates were not as obvious. Many expected Aaron Curry to win it, but instead another linebacker - Brian Cushing - took the award. There was obviously some controversy regarding that decision but after a recent re-vote, the former USC Trojan still came out on top ahead of Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. Cushing recorded 133 tackles, four sacks, four interceptions and a safety. Byrd, a 5'10", 200lbs free safety, came second in the poll after a nine interception rookie season.
Looking ahead to this year, have any of the Seahawks' rookie class got a legitimate shot at winning the 2010 awards?
Since the first winner in 1967 (Detroit running back Mel Farr), the offensive rookie of the year has always been won by a quarterback, running back or receiver. However well Russell Okung plays in 2010, it seems unlikely he'll be a candidate to win the award. The obvious big names will be touted as we approach training camp: C.J. Spiller (RB, Buffalo), Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas), Sam Bradford (QB, St. Louis), Ryan Mathews (RB, San Diego), Demaryius Thomas (WR, Denver) and Jahvid Best (RB, Detroit).
Some may even take a punt on second round fliers such as Ben Tate (RB, Houston), Dexter McCluster (RB/WR, Kansas City), Jimmy Clausen (QB, Carolina) and Montario Hardesty (RB, Cleveland). It seems only fair then to add Golden Tate to that list.
I expect the Seahawks will look to get Tate involved early. Wide receiver is a difficult position to learn early in a career especially for a team that is starting out a new playbook and is rebuilding an under performing unit. What Tate has in his favor though, is the ability to be used in a number of ways similar to last year's winner Harvin. Of course, the Vikings playmaker was taken over a round earlier than Tate in last year's draft and has a rare combination of skills that make him a unique talent. However, it appears likely the Seahawks will use Tate as running back, kick returner and receiver in year one - just like Minnesota used Harvin in his rookie campaign.
If some of the other more likely candidates fail to explode onto the scene (Mathews, Bryant and Spiller appear the most likely contenders at this point), there's no reason why Tate can't put himself into the equation. However, a rebuilding Seahawks may also temper their expectations and therefore usage of Tate. Minnesota could afford to test Harvin early with an assortment of talent on both sides of the ball. Seattle has preached competition though so if Tate can enjoy a good training camp, who knows how his role will progress as a rookie?
The last seven defensive rookies of the year have been linebackers. Rolando McClain (Oakland) and Sean Wetherspoon (Atlanta) will be well aware of that heading into 2010. There's also some other big names who will be hoping to end that streak - namely Ndamukong Suh (DT, Detroit), Gerald McCoy (DT, Tampa Bay) and Eric Berry (S, Kansas City).
However, if Jairus Byrd's second place finish in 2009 proves anything it's that Berry and Seattle's own Earl Thomas can put themselves in contention. Byrd didn't play on a great defense in Buffalo - they lacked a consistent pass rush and lost their best cornerback to injury early in the year. However, Byrd still collected nine picks. He was only denied by a monster season from Cushing that he'll struggle to match too many times during his career, especially now he's under a bigger spotlight amid wild controversy.
Like Byrd, neither Berry nor Thomas will be playing behind an elite defensive line (at least, we don't necessarily expect that, but stranger things have happened). It shouldn't affect their ability to make plays - both are talented ball hawks with great anticipation. They'll also be thrust into starting from week one and be expected to hit the ground running.
Both are big enough names that they'll be followed closely by fans and pundits alike. Attention will be diverted to their performances if the stats column begins to light up. Thomas had eight interceptions for Texas last year in just thirteen games and has proven he has the instinct to play at a high level early in his career. It could help that he'll play in a division that contains a rookie quarterback (Sam Bradford) and two quarterbacks whose starting positions are less than secure (Alex Smith and Matt Leinart). Seattle also faces interception machine Jay Cutler in week six, Jason Campbell and his new gig during week eight and host a Carolina team in week thirteen with currently no definitive answer at quarterback.
Needless to say there will be opportunities there for Thomas. However, he's coming up against a stellar class of defensive talent and will need to do more than normal to put himself firmly in contention. Eighteen defensive prospects went in round one this year. Almost all of them will fancy their chances of winning rookie of the year.